Wildfires Rage Across Texas, Scorch Over 1 Million Acres
Angela K. Brown
The fire started Friday near Possum Kingdom Lake, 70 miles west of Fort Worth, and linked up with several smaller blazes. By Tuesday, it had burned nearly 150,000 acres, destroyed about 150 homes and a church in several communities and forced hundreds of residents to flee the area, Texas Forest Service spokesman Marq Webb said. White ash was falling from the sky Tuesday in several towns.
Webb said crews would be able to use firefighting tactics to keep the blaze from Fort Worth, one of Texas' largest cities with nearly 750,000 residents.
"It's still a long way out there. God help us if it goes that far," Webb told The Associated Press. "Stranger things have happened, but we're not even thinking that at this point."
But the statewide drought, hot temperatures and gusting winds have made for ideal conditions that have allowed wildfires to ignite and spread quickly across much of the state. Wildfires have burned more than 1 million acres in Texas in the past week alone, including several massive blazes in West Texas that firefighters continued battling Tuesday.
Authorities ordered the 400 residents of Palo Pinto, about 50 miles west of Fort Worth, to leave the city on Tuesday evening because of the advancing flames, said Trooper Gary Rozzell of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The county's jail inmates also were evacuated, and several roads in the area were closed.
But in other towns closer to Fort Worth, residents didn't seem worried that the blaze could reach them.
"We don't have the underbrush here, and there are many communities and other developed areas before the fire would get to Fort Worth or Dallas," said Jimmy Peters, who lives in Willow Park, about 30 miles west of Fort Worth.
Several of the state's largest cities have been on the alert since a weekend wildfire in Austin destroyed 10 homes after starting on the outskirts of town.
Authorities say that fire started when a homeless man left his campfire untended and the wind blew an ember into the tinder-dry vegetation that can be found throughout the state. The fire spread quickly and forced the evacuation of about 200 homes before crews were able to contain it.
"We absolutely saw what happened (in Austin), and we do have similar dry conditions and very windy conditions," said Melissa Sparks, a San Antonio Fire Department spokeswoman. "We are prepared in case it happens, but there's not really an opportunity for us to go out and mow everybody's lawns for them."
Jason Evans, a spokesman for the Dallas Fire Department, said some of the city's populated areas are close to rural regions full of parched grass and brush.
"I think people are guilty of thinking, 'This can't happen here,'" Evans said. "There's a lot of people in Texas who thought that when they saw wildfires in Colorado and California, but now they are realizing it can happen in Texas, too."
Weary firefighters had some reason for hope as rain and higher humidity levels were forecast for the rest of the week in parts of the state.
A 20 to 30 percent chance of rain was forecast for Wednesday and Thursday in the North Texas area, said Daniel Huckaby, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.
"Some areas will get some rainfall, but unfortunately most will not. And with the chaotic wind that thunderstorms can produce, and the lightening they can produce, that can make matters worse," Huckaby said.
But as the humidity levels rise, "even without the rain, conditions are looking more positive."